Excerpt from The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The House on Vesper Sands

by Paraic O'Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell X
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell
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    Jan 2021, 408 pages

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Rachel Hullett
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She felt herself sway a little on her feet. It was not only the pain. She had taken no supper, nor any sustenance at all since morning. "He made himself understood, Mr. Carew."

"Very good, Miss Tull." He lowered his face so that his brow was very near to her own. "I am very glad to hear it. Then you remember the matter that most concerned him?"

"I remember."

"You remember his words?"

"I remember—I remember, Mr. Carew, but not the exact words."

"His Lordship employs a good many servants, and engages any number of tradespeople. Between them they have many duties, but they have one in common. Do you recall what it is?"

"Yes, Mr. Carew."

"Well, then? Must I draw it from you like a tooth? What is the first duty of a person employed in His Lordship's household?"

"Discretion, Mr. Carew."

"Again, please." Raising his hand, he gathered up the broad flesh of his ear.

"The duty of discretion, Mr. Carew."

He waited a moment longer before drawing his face away from hers. Even with her own eyes lowered, Esther felt the insistence of his gaze. "Very well, then," he said, resuming his seat. "In your own time, Miss Tull."

It was the work of some minutes to empty her case entirely. She had been ill at ease already, and grew clumsy under his scrutiny, piercing her cuff with a bodkin and letting a pair of scissors tumble from her grasp. When she had put out all she had, the little table was all but covered. The garment that had been commissioned was indeed an intricate piece of work, and the machine could be used only for the plainest of stitching. There was hardly an implement in her possession that she had not had call to use in these last weeks.

Mr. Carew took hold of the table lamp and passed it slowly over the bobbins and thimbles, the needles and hooks, pausing now and then to turn something over or hold it up for inspection. She wondered if he knew the purpose of even half these items. Taking up a stiletto, he held it to the light, so that a dull gleam passed along its length. It was used only to puncture eyelets, but its long point was keen, and it might easily do worse than that. Mr. Carew set it down and returned the lamp to its place. He yawned as he turned to her, taking no great trouble to cover his mouth.

"The case itself, Miss Tull, if you please."

"Clear all this away, will you, so that we may get on with our business. Such a production you made of it. Did I not say you had nothing to fear?" Mr Carew took the case from her hands with a show of relish. He held it open beneath the lamp first, agitating it a good deal as he peered into each corner of its interior. Then he reached inside and began a thorough examination with his fingertips and the flat of his palm, so that she doubted there was a square inch of the lining he had left untouched. Finally—and by now the slackening of his expression revealed a measure of disappointment—he held the case upside down and shook it.

"Well, Miss Tull." He reclined in his seat with a look of displeasure and gestured impatiently at her things. "Clear all this away, will you, so that we may get on with our business. Such a production you made of it. Did I not say you had nothing to fear?"

Esther began packing away her sewing kit, not meeting his eyes. Would he attempt to search her clothing? He had not gone so far before, but might be moved to it by some new suspicion. She replied with as much evenness as she could manage. "Those were not your words, Mr. Carew, but perhaps that was your meaning."

He gave her a keen look, but pursued the subject no further. When she had gathered up her things, he went to unlock the door. While his back was turned, she made the last of her preparations. With delicate movements, she adjusted her clothing. It was to ease her discomfort, in part, but that was not her only concern. She had made certain alterations, in places that were hidden from view. She would depend on them, when the time came.

Excerpted from The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell. Copyright © 2021 by Paraic O'Donnell. Used with the permission of the publisher, Tin House. Copyright © 2020 by Paraic O'Donnell.

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